In the Trump White House, personnel is policy. Tracking who is up and down can shed light on the White House's priorities, on how policy debates are unfolding and on the president's thinking. Peter Navarro's resurgence is a sure indicator that trade and manufacturing policy is heating up in 2018. It's also instructive on how to survive in President Donald Trump's world.

Navarro's White House tenure has been a roller coaster. During the transition, the incoming administration announced he would head a new entity called the National Trade Council. But that organization was later folded into the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, which is not an official policy council, and placed under Navarro's direction. Navarro involved his office in a wide range of issues. But trade policy languished in the first months, and Navarro's views often did not win the day.

Last September, Navarro suffered another blow when Chief of Staff John Kelly reorganized the White House economics team and placed him under the direction of National Economic Council head Gary Cohn, his nemesis. Then, last month, Trump decided to reverse that move.

On Feb. 12, Trump called Navarro into the Oval Office and asked him why his administration's trade policy wasn't more aggressive, according to two senior White House officials. Trump told Navarro that this was the year he wants to move the trade policy forward. He then called in Kelly and told him to move Navarro and his office out of the NEC and restore the office's independence.

Navarro will also be promoted to the title of assistant to the president, equal in status to Cohn. The move signals that the Trump administration is moving toward a more confrontational trade policy, especially with China, a focus of Navarro's going back several years. Trump's tariffs announcement was proof of that.

"The president has come to the conclusion that there's nobody in the room who shares the president's views on trade when these decisions are being made," one senior White House official said.

"This has been building for a long time," another senior White House official said. "It's not the nationalists versus the globalists, it's Trump going forward with the trade agenda that he advertised to the American people." White House spokeswoman Natalie Strom declined to comment.

The shift inside the White House is partially due to timing. In addition to the imposition of steel and aluminum tariffs, several major trade decisions are due in the coming months, including confronting China on intellectual property theft and renegotiating major trade deals, including those with Mexico and Canada and with South Korea. On all of these, Trump has expressed his support for a more confrontational position, which tracks the views of Navarro and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

Some officials believe Kelly had placed Navarro under Cohn for organizational purposes; others are convinced that Kelly was trying to get rid of Navarro as part of his larger purge of campaign officials. Either way, Navarro was a "model prisoner," one White House official said.

Sometimes Navarro's lower rank allowed him to get involved on a more working level. For example, he led the policy coordination committee process that produced a deal to resolve the U.S. dispute with Qatar over the Open Skies Agreement, which was hailed as a win for all sides involved.

When it comes to China, Navarro has been criticized as being extreme, dating back to his 2011 book and documentary entitled "Death by China." But the Trump administration has been hardening on China, especially when it comes to trade and economics. Last week, Trump said past U.S. administrations had allowed China to "get away with murder."

"It's gotten worse and worse over the years, but we'll correct it," Trump said.

The battle over Trump administration trade policy is far from over. But Navarro's turn of fortune holds a lesson for other Trump officials: If you don't like the way the White House is going, keep your head down, do good work and wait. In the Trump administration, both personnel and policy are always subject to huge changes. 

Josh Rogin is a columnist for the Global Opinions section of The Washington Post. He writes about foreign policy and national security.